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Idioms explained: The sky is the limit

Discover the meaning of a wonderfully versatile and popular expression at the hand of a courageous story of determination

Season 2, episode 6
11 min / Published

Tubs the pig is a force to be reconed with. See how he beats the odds and changes attitudes for the better.

Learn how nothing is impossible when a dream is underpinned by sheer willpower.

Internalise the meaning of this very handy expression by way of a easy-to-follow story.

Happy listening.


Show notes

The sky is the limit

Everyone knows that pigs are rather heavy-set animals who spend their days lying around and rolling in mud. However, we also know that for every rule there are bound to be at least one exception. In this case, the exclusion to this assumption was a determined little hog called Tubs.

Tubs was no normal swine and had been a very fussy eater from his piglet days. He seemed to prefer leafy greens to the normal garbage that his brothers devoured. They would happily scoff down as much grub as they could find, often leaving little or nothing at all for Tubs to eat. This troubled him very little as his modest appetite simply wasn’t commonplace for a pig. He drank loads of water and was always very aware of walking around the farm a few times after every meal…

It was during one of these walks that Tubs picked up the pace a little bit and began to do something very few pigs have ever done – jogging. He enjoyed it so much that he started doing it every morning after breakfast and every night before bedtime. He was in magnificent shape and everyone commented on his appearance. There was a small problem; pigs’ cloven hooves were great for balance, but no so much suited for running. The unfortunate result was that Tubs’ trotters started chafing and this caused much discomfort.

He simply had to make a plan because his goal was to become as fit as he could be and break the stigma attached to all pigs. What could he do though? It’s not like Nike or Adidas make running shoes for pigs… He was losing hope fast and had to make a plan… double-time! It was then that he walked over to his brothers rolling around, wriggling around, their obese bellies aimed at the warmth of the sun… Tubs looked at them in disgust and felt repulsed at the dirty and revolting dried mud stains on their bodies. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks – the dried mud could work to resolve his irritated arches.

He went over to the sludge pit where his brothers were burping and flatulating loudly. They had just finished their lunch and when they set eyes on him, they laughed and hurled insults at him. “Oh look who decided to act like a pig at least!” the oldest brother, Lard screamed. “I cannot believe my eyes, look at this sorry excuse for a pig!” another sibling was heard saying. None of this seemed to bother Tubs in the least; he was on a mission and was determined not to get distracted from his goal. He dipped his feet in the mud and waited for the sun to do the rest. Once the wet dirt was nice and dry, Tubs set off on his run. It worked. It worked so well in fact that he set his personal best time for a lap around the farm that very day.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Tubs was wearing a brand new pair of running shoes by the careful way he applied the mud to his hooves. He had additional energy and a newfound motivation to dispel the negative views people held of all pigs. He was going to prove to the world that pigs were more than lazy, fat slackers who roll around in decaying filth all day. He was going to change some attitudes, as simple as that.

However, before this brave hog could change the beliefs of the world out there, he had to fight the prejudices right here on in the yard where he lived. The farmer raised pigs for one reason and one reason only – PORK. Tubs and his brothers were destined for an awful fate, as were all the other pigs that came before them – the slaughterhouse. Nobody was going to pay top dollar for a lean and trim pig. The trend was and will always be for pigs to be fat, juicy and possess sizeable rumps and bellies. Tubs was not ticking any of these boxes. Needless to say, the farmer was less than amused that one of his pigs were losing weight at the rate of knots.

Tubs had great genes and was part of some superior stock, so at first, there was no talk of giving up on trying getting him fat again. The farmer tried everything to entice Tubs to start tucking in, but nothing worked. The farmer’s wife thought for sure that one of the leftover vegetable stew, delicious lentil soup or fresh pumpkin pie she tried, would do the trick. Nevertheless, the muscles kept building and the fat continued melting away.

There was one option left. They veterinarian was called to assess if Tubs was not perhaps coming down with something. The farmer hoped that this was the case, seeing that if this did not work, the trip to the abattoir was going to be moved up drastically. Unsurprisingly the animal specialist found nothing wrong with Tubs. This unfortunately meant that Tubs’ days were numbered. He was of no use to the farmer if he wasn’t picking up weight. The call was made and the next morning would be Tubs’ last one on the farm.

That morning before anyone was awake; Tubs had already completed two laps around the yard. The farmer paid no notice to the silly pig and continued on his way to the pasture where the cattle grazed. He was so upset with the Tubs situation that he didn’t pay attention to the raging bull that had made his way to the very pasture where the cows were kept. When this vicious animal saw the farmer on what he believed was his turf, he didn’t think twice and charged straight for the old man.

As the bull raced down the length of the enclosure, the farmer had no idea of what was headed his way. Tubs saw everything and knew if he didn’t do something, that farmer would certainly be killed. The bull had at least a 20-meter head start, but Tubs overtook the beast with little effort. This brave hog then ran directly at the farmer, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and flung him over the enclosure to safety. As soon as the farmer hit the ground (out of harm's way) on the other side, the bull crashed into the gate with great force. The farmer could not believe what had just happened. The pig he was going to have slaughtered clearly saved his life.

From that day, Tubs was a hero. The farmer immediately swopped raising pigs for raising crops. The pigs that were already on the farm formed part of a newly established petting zoo. They were fed balanced meals and a nutritionist helped keep their weight in check. They were bathed weekly and taken for gentle strolls under Tubs’ trusted guidance, daily. No animal in the yard ever had to worry about the slaughterhouse again.

Tubs had managed to change not only minds, but also lives with his guts and determination. He had a goal and didn’t allow anything to get in his way. It was almost as though he believed the sky is the limit to what he could achieve.

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Sold on Stories
A podcast by Sold on stories
Engaging & original stories supplying concrete understanding of idioms for Intermediate English learners
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